French Senate Votes Overwhelmingly to Ban Face Veils in Public Spaces

News Agencies – September 14, 2010
The French Senate has overwhelmingly passed a bill banning full-facial coverings in public. Leaders of both parliamentary houses said they have asked a special council to first ensure the measure passes constitutional muster amid concerns its tramples on religious freedoms. The Senate voted 246 to 1 in favour of the bill, which has already passed in the lower chamber, the National Assembly. It will need President Nicolas Sarkozy’s signature.
“This law was the object of long and complex debates,” the Senate president, Gerard Larcher, and National Assembly head Bernard Accoyer said in a joint statement explaining their move. They said in a joint statement that they want to be sure there is “no uncertainty” about it conforming to the constitution. The measure affects approximately 2,000 women.
France would be the first European country to pass such a law though others, notably neighbouring Belgium, are considering laws against face-covering veils, seen as anathema to the local culture. The bill calls for 150 euro fines or citizenship classes for any woman caught covering her face, or both. It also carries stiff penalties for anyone such as husbands or brothers convicted of forcing the veil on a woman. The 30,000 euro fine and year in prison are doubled if the victim is a minor. It remains unclear how authorities planned to enforce such a law.

Jean-François Cope suggests burqa ban in France

Lawmaker Jean-Francois Cope, head of President Sarkozy’s UMP party suggested he would submit a bill to have the veil banned not just from public buildings but also in the streets of France.

“We want a ban in public areas,” Cope said. However, the speaker of the lower chamber, Bernard Accoyer, said he felt his UMP party colleague’s plan risks “appearing premature” before the parliamentary panel issues its report.

Cope said after a meeting of Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement that he planned to file two distinct texts in January, one of which would ensconce the ban in a larger bill forbidding people from covering their faces on security grounds. The other text would be a resolution regarding respect for women’s rights. A resolution approved by lawmakers does not carry the weight of law, but solemnly affirms a principle.

Cope suggested a fine could be levied against anyone breaking the ban. However, he also suggested a period of mediation lasting several months “with the women in question and their husbands … to explain” and discuss the issue.

French UMP Minister pushes for headscarf ban in National Assembly

Northern UMP deputy member Françoise Hostalier has proposed a similar legislation against headscarves in the National Assembly to the 2004 prohibition of conspicuous religious signs in public schools.

Hostalier’s request comes in the wake of students who “provocatively” wore hijabs in the National Assembly in a recent visit. On November 19 in response to protest among its members, the National Assembly president Bernard Accoyer stated that no regulations authorize persons to be refused into the tribunal based on their dress. Mohammed Moussaoui, the president of the CFCM (French Council of the Muslim Faith) responded that while several members have pushed for the invisibility of Islam in the public sphere that the issue has to be faced moderately.